Lyssa, the boys, and I enjoyed a late Aunt Judy’s breakfast at 11:30 while Hannah waited in the truck. With no other plans for Labor Day and a promising weather forecast, we’ve decided to spend a night at Puckaway. We pulled in the driveway around 12:15 and had to stop about a third of the way in. A huge fallen birch was blocking our path.

This beast was almost two feet in diameter at its base.

I let everyone out of the truck and backed out of the driveway, turned around, and backed in up to the tree. I walked up to the pole barn, fired up the green ATV, and hooked it up to the small yard trailer. We used it as a bellhop’s cart, filling it with our bags, the cooler, and my tools from the back of the truck. Lyssa started unloading and preparing things in the keep while I gathered some tools to clear our path.

I was filling the chainsaw with gas and chain oil when Lyssa’s parents came walking down the driveway. It’s been a few years since they’ve last seen the place, so we showed off some of the recent improvements. Peter gave me a hand clearing the megabirch from the driveway while Lyssa and Val kept an eye on the boys and filled the bird feeders. We used the ATV trailer for all of the smaller branches and threw the trunk sections in the back of my pickup. After about 45 minutes, we had just about everything collected and enough room to let our vehicles pass.

I unloaded the bed of my truck into the burnpit and lit it up. In short order, we had a bright, hot fire that would burn for the rest of our trip. At around 2:00 it started raining pretty hard so I parked the ATVs in the pole barn and we all headed for the keep. The boys kept busy playing cards with their grandparents and I dozed in the recliner watching How It’s Made. There were a few breaks in the rain where Peter and I would go back out and tend the fire for a bit, but for the most part it was a pretty steady pour. Everyone else watched a movie in the keep.

Yondu was here, apparently.

We all started to get hungry around 4:30 so, with the exception of Hannah, we piled into Peter’s truck and headed into town for dinner at Pizza Factory. While here, I noticed they had a small celebrity wall section with signed photos from Michael Rooker, Dan Aykroyd, Brooke Shields, and Vanna White, among others. Who knew Princeton was a celebrity pizza destination?

The boys wanted to show Grandpa Peter the boat landing, so we stopped on our way back from dinner. We returned to Puckaway around 6:00 and there was surprisingly little left of the birch logs in the pit. I stirred things around and we waved goodbye to the Molters. The rain seems to have let up for the night, so we let the boys run off some energy around the grounds.

I got out the loppers and did some trimming on the apple trees by the brick garden. It’s a lot easier to see out to the pit from the keep-mounted webcam now. Jake and Josh got a kick out of it when I shook down a bunch of apples during this process. Hopefully, it’ll bring some hungry deer right in front of the camera.

As long as we had such a large, hot fire going, I decided to make use of it to clean up around the yard. I grabbed the green ATV and used a tow strap to unearth the two utility pole segments that were the last remains of the old driveway wood pile. I dragged them over to the pit and laid them out perpendicular to each other. This would serve as my “drying rack” for the rest of my targeted consumables: the remains of the woodshed base.

I grabbed a pry bar and started the delicate task of peeling off the soaked, moldy plywood from the base frame. The plywood was reluctant to leave, but once I got the first few pieces removed, I had a better angle to get in after the rest. There was a layer of 1/4″ hardboard sandwiched between the frame and plywood, but most of it pulled away like wet cardboard.

I took a break around 8:00 to help Lyssa tuck the boys in for the night on the futon. Lyssa headed back out to enjoy the fire and give me a hand loading up the trailer with some of the more cumbersome pieces. I managed to get about a 12′ by 8′ section completely removed, using my Sawzall to hack up the now-bare sections of frame. This finally seemed like enough progress for one day, so I headed in for a shower around 10:00 and was in bed shortly after that.


So much more space for activities!

I woke up around 7:00 to a keep full of commotion. The boys were bouncing off the walls having been up for over an hour already and Lyssa was busy preparing breakfast. She used the skillet that we hauled up earlier this summer to fry up some eggs for everyone. Even Hannah got an egg. It was pretty cold and damp out, so we stayed inside, relaxed, and watched some TV until about 9:00 when the sun came out.

I pulled the aluminum ATV trailer out of the pole barn and parked it along the path west of the woodshed ruins. I’m planning to use it to get rid of some scrap. With this out of the way, the boys had a little more room to play in and around the pole barn. Lyssa kept an eye on them the rest of the morning while I continued work on demolishing the woodshed base. Found three salamanders in the process, which was pretty cool.

When I got to the final third of the woodshed, I gave up on trying to pry things apart. This section of the floor was different; instead of plywood sheets, it was comprised of long red planks that looked like they might have been reclaimed barn boards. It was hard to wedge my pry bar anywhere to pull these up, so I set the project to “easy mode” and fired up the chainsaw. I cut across the planks parallel to the floor joists and then sliced up the stringer boards on the end. Lyssa gave me a hand loading these last few sections onto the ATV cart and into the pit, and the woodshed was officially no more.

RIP, Carmel. You were a good girl.

Lyssa continued to help as I cleared out all the junk that was stored under the foundation. I moved and sorted the big stuff like pipes and cinder blocks, then she would come through with the rake and pick out anything I missed. After a few minutes, she called me over and was holding up a pink dog collar. It was from Carmel, one of the two Golden Retriever mixes I had growing up. She lost that up here 14 years ago and we never figured out how. Looks like she must have been chasing chipmunks under the building and got it caught on a nail or something. The collar is in pretty good shape thanks to being out of the elements all this time. Mom should get a kick out of this little discovery.

Lyssa and the boys headed in for lunch and to try and take a nap while I finished cleaning up. They were all dozing on the futon by the time I came in and made myself a salad. I relaxed for a bit myself and watched some episodes of Community on my phone in the bedroom. Wifey and I talked for a bit and decided that since the weather had taken such a positive turn and the boys were having such a good time, we should stay another night.


We decided to take a run into town for some supplies and let Hannah ride along. We hit up Piggly Wiggly and got more eggs and some brown ‘n serve sausage links alongside some junk food for the boys (myself included). The next stop was for ice cream at the little shop at the end of Water St. After that, we took a little detour so Jake could show Josh and Lyssa where he and I went to check out the locks when just the two of us came up earlier this summer. There were a ton of people fishing, but also an unusually high number of turtles hanging around. Every half-submerged log along the shore had at least 4 or 5 of them. I tried to snap a picture of a log with over a dozen but the majority of them slid off after I got out of the truck. Fun little detour.

We made it back to camp around 3:30. With the woodshed out of the way, I headed down the driveway to finish off the fallen birch. This was slow going as I had definitely dulled the chain on the saw by cutting up the base frame, but I eventually got the rest of the trunk carved up. Two yard trailer-loads later and the driveway looked better than ever.

RIP, woodshed. You were a bad shed.

It was getting difficult to stand close enough to the pit to throw the heavier logs on, so I left a few off to the side to help kickstart the next big fire. I then turned my attention to the aluminum ATV trailer. I used the winch on the green ATV to pull the two old silver Craftsman riding mowers over to the trailer ramp, then used a mix of the winch, a length of chain, and a tow strap to pull them up onto the trailer. This was slow work. I didn’t want to wreck the trailer and the mowers didn’t want to cooperate. Their flat tires made it almost impossible for the mower decks to clear the ramp, but I eventually got them both into place. I also got the weird little Gump-style zero-turn mower on there. I originally anticipated getting more equipment onto the trailer, but it’s pretty full. I’ll be hauling this home with us tomorrow to drop off at Fox Valley Iron & Metal to try to get some scrap value out of this derelict gear. Really, I’ll just be happy to have it off the property.

First it steams, then it burns.

By the time I was finishing up with the mowers, it was 6:00 and Lyssa had already started grilling some brats. I was wiped and we were all hungry so we all enjoyed a family dinner on the deck. Hannah even got her own brat and a good portion of mac & cheese. She’s not spoiled at all.

Lyssa got the boys through the shower while I put away all my tools and the ATVs and closed up the pole barn. I worked over the pit for a bit to stir in some unburnt pieces from the edges, then lumbered into the keep and straight into the shower. We relaxed in the living room for a bit but we all went to bed a little after 8:00. Big day.


It’s just too bad Hannah’s not comfortable up here.

I woke up around 4 am and went out to answer nature’s call. For the life of me, I could not get back to sleep, so I stayed in bed and did some reading. Jake crawled in a little after 5:00 and snuggled for a bit. He got antsy after about half an hour. We went out to the living room to put on a movie so Lyssa could get a little more rest. This good deed was soon rewarded with a delicious homemade breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, and toast. I think we’ve shifted from relying on Aunt Judy’s every morning to having it be a once-per-trip treat.

I spent the morning putting the finishing touches on some keep-related projects. I drilled a few holes to run wires and used some double-sided tape to mount the Harmony Hub out of the way on the wall of the closet. I mounted the secondary IR blaster in the kitchen where it’s got a clear shot at the AC. It’s a pretty subtle install; I like how it turned out. While I still had the drill, I unscrewed the outside temperature/humidity sensor from the trailer frame and mounted it in the external enclosure I bought for it earlier this summer. The whole thing is now mounted to the back side of the keep and should hopefully give some more accurate readings now. I’d eventually like to mount this above the roofline so it can get some more wind, but this is still an improvement.

The pit, at rest.

My final project involved the LED deck lights. They’re controlled by a DC circuit with a little IR blaster so the remote can be used to change colors. This thing is not waterproof and neither is the power supply, so I always take it down and bring it in at the end of a trip. Not anymore! I mounted a waterproof enclosure with a clear cover to a center deck post and stuffed the LED controller and power supply inside. I used my Dremel to cut openings for the power and light cables and then sealed them up with clear silicone. I’d like to hit this with a coat of stain to help it blend in better, but for now I’m just happy not to have to pack it away every time I close up the keep.

Lyssa cleaned up inside and packed up all of our gear while I packed up my tools and closed up the pole barn. I’m bringing the chainsaw home so I can clean it up and get the chains sharpened. We’re also bringing all the bedding home and some of the rugs. It’s never too early to start prepping for Puckaweekend. With the truck packed up, we hooked up to the ATV trailer full of dead lawn mowers and were on our way around 1:30. A very fun and surprisingly productive family weekend!